1st April 2021, Coach Roy Williams announced that he is retiring from his role of Head Coach of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.
In his opinion, he is no longer the right man for the job. In my opinion, he is the greatest coach in college basketball. I didn’t want to write a news article about the announcement, it didn’t feel right. I’ve never met Coach Roy Williams, but I loved him… more than words could express.
Today, I’m writing this as a fan, just a kid from England who loves North Carolina. This is a letter to my hero.
Dear Coach Williams,
Without you, I probably would not have been a Tar Heel. To me, you are Carolina Basketball.
I became a Tar Heel in the summer of 2010 when I was working a summer job just outside your hometown of Asheville. I travelled from England and didn’t know that much about college basketball. Therefore, I asked my colleagues what college team I should support? They were UNC students. Little did I know what my future would hold and how much the University of North Carolina would become my life. This may have been 11 years ago, but it feels like I have been a Tar Heel since I was born.
Thanks to you Coach when we watch the Tar Heels, we feel like we’re 10 years old again. We’re watching our heroes on that court, led by you, and for 2 hours we forget all our problems and become engrossed with being a Tar Heel. There is something about being a part of something that is so much bigger than ourselves. I would watch games until 4 am over here in England. I’ve cried by myself in the early hours after Kris Jenkins’ shot, then I screamed for joy one year later… trying to not wake up my family. Watching you in the locker room with the players, dancing, jumping around… no Tar Heel fan in the world who will not smile at that.
Coach Williams, you taught me so much. You taught me how important our history is. I read every book and watched every video I could find about North Carolina. You taught me about honour, you taught me about respect. I have always admired how you look up to your mentors. The way you speak about your love for them, how much you respected them and how much you also respected your opponents. The criticism you would receive throughout the years, you always held yourself to the highest level of accountability and integrity. You did it your way.
There will never be anyone on this planet that loves the University of North Carolina more than you do. You are like one of us fans when cheering on the Tar Heels. It’s not just basketball, but every sport. It brings me so much joy seeing you in the crowds with Wanda. I loved the videos of when the players would come over for Selection Sunday and your house is every Tar Heel fan’s dream. You win the title of the best Tar Heel Fan Cave!
Coach, you made me proud to be where I’m from. I’m from Norwich, England (yes I believe I should have been born in Carolina, but still…). You make me find ways to be proud of where I am from; I find my favourite places to go eat, I find my favourites walks in my city… because that’s what you do. You appreciate everything around you! You love North Carolina, you love Asheville, you love Chapel Hill and one of the goals in my life is to be more like Coach Williams… that’s a pretty daggum good way to live.
You made me fall in love with coaching basketball. My Dad was a youth football coach, so I started coaching at a young age. Then I fell in love with basketball. I fell in love with the style of your play and I decided I wanted to be a basketball coach. In 2013, I was honoured to become the Head Coach of my local universities women’s basketball team. We played the Carolina Way. I wrote my sessions plans out with your templates and had the ‘Thought of the Day’ including quotes from you. I had it minute by minute, just like you did (just like Coach Smith did). I wanted to be Coach Roy Williams.
In 2015, a dream came true and I made the trip to come over to Chapel Hill and work at Coach Sylvia Hatchell’s Camp. I couldn’t get paid because of VISA’s, but I said to the team there that I’ll do anything to learn at Carolina, I would’ve paid to coach and learn there if I had to. I remember my first day in Chapel Hill, I walked to the Dean Smith Center to just see it, to just touch it… the door was open… and then I headed into the stands. It was the current team versus the alumni game and there you were, on the sidelines… I was in awe.
I spent hours later in the Carolina Basketball Museum, all the accomplishments, all our history. I was a kid in a candy store. The Carolina Basketball Museum is still and always will be one of my favourite places on earth. Every time I go to Chapel Hill, I’ll enter and it will be like my first visit again. I learned the love of UNC from you because you instilled that in all of us, you taught us what it was to be a Tar Heel.
Coach, I don’t know if you’ve realized how many people you have influenced, worldwide. The words you say at practice, interviews, press conferences, that we can hear. You inspire so many, more than just the 15 young men you coach every year. You believed in every one of your players, that much belief in someone is contagious and you make us believe in ourselves.
You know what, I thought I was competitive! My Dad and I would race each other to the car and we would compete to see the sea first on our trips to the coast. But you sir… there is no one more competitive than you. Your drive is infectious. You taught us all how to compete, to be the best that we can be. If that’s a teacher, you’ve got to teach to the best you can. If that’s working at the supermarket, you pack those bags to the best you can. If you’re a cleaner, you clean to the best it’s ever been. You taught us how to be our best selves, thank you.
My life has changed so much in the past decade, but you were always there. Come every October, there was ‘Late Night with Roy’, and every March I would be staying up late, with my Tar Heels jersey on and cheering, so you could hear me over the Atlantic. Throughout these past 11 years, whatever has changed in my life; people left, jobs ending, traumatic moments… you were always there.
In your own words Coach; “if someone says your name, and it makes someone else smile, that’s a good legacy to leave.” Through these tears Coach, I’m smiling.
I will forever be thankful for all the joy that you have brought us. Thank you for your love and sacrifice for the University of North Carolina. 903 wins in your career, 3 national championships at North Carolina… you earned your retirement.
Underneath this heartache, I am so so happy for you Coach. I want you to enjoy time with Wanda, spend more time on the golf course, travel to see your friends across the world and have Scott, Kimberly and the kids over more and more. You deserve it!
Please don’t go far away though Coach, the Tar Heels are nothing without you. I know you will not appreciate me saying that because of your humility. When we’re allowed back in the stands, I can’t wait to see you cheering them on.
Coach Williams, we never met, but I’m just a 29-year-old lad from Norwich, England and you changed my life… you’re my hero.
From The British Tar Heel.
Subscribe below to Tar Heel International.